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The ABCs of the 2019 Ohio State football season

G is for grad-transfers, O is for Olave, B is for Big Ten West, U is for Uniforms, C is for Captains, K is for Kicking, S is for Starting Strong!

NCAA Football: Big Ten Conference-Football Championship-Northwestern vs Ohio State Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

A lot has changed for the Ohio State football program since they walked off of the field in Pasadena, but somethings have remained the same. Despite having a new head coach and starting quarterback, they are still a top-5 team in both major polls.

With all of the new names and faces in the program, we decided to provide you with a handy list of everything that you need to know about the 2019 Ohio State Buckeyes, from A to Z!


A is for Almost Here

I don’t know if it was all of the changes during the offseason, with Ryan Day taking over the reigns from Urban Meyer, or Justin Fields riding in on his white horse to save Ohio State’s quarterbacking situation, or all of the turnover on the coaching staff — primarily on the defensive side — but for me, it felt like the time between OSU’s Rose Bowl victory and this very moment has been an eternity... a long, painful, football-less eternity. However, all of the days and nights obsessing over NBA free agency, the World Series of Poker, The Basketball Tournament, and whatever other worthwhile distractions are finally over, because we are just five days away from the start of the 2019 Ohio State Buckeyes football season! — Matt Tamanini

B is for Big Ten West

If Ohio State is serious about contending for a national title in 2019, they must be able to overcome the Big Ten West trap game that has plagued them in both of the past two years. The Buckeyes have recently suffered mind-boggling blowout losses to Iowa and Purdue, and the Western division opponents do not get any easier this season. Two of the three B1G West teams that Ohio State plays this year will be on the road, including Nebraska and Northwestern, with a matchup against Wisconsin coming at home. — Gene Ross

C is for Captains

Seven Buckeyes were elected by their teammates to be captains for the 2019 season. Four of Ohio State’s captains will come from the defense, while the other three will be from the offense. The most notable story amongst the captains is graduate student C.J. Saunders, who began his career as a walk-on wide receiver. Fellow receiver K.J. Hill, defensive end Jonathon Cooper and safety Jordan Fuller were all elected as captains in their senior seasons in scarlet and gray. Junior defensive end Chase Young, linebacker Tuf Borland, and running back J.K. Dobbins round out the captains picks for the Buckeyes this season. — Brett Ludwiczak

D is for Dobbins

J.K. Dobbins will be the go-to rusher for Ohio State this season. In his first two years in the Scarlet and Gray, he’s not only been one of the more effective rushers in OSU history, but one of the more dynamic ball carriers in the Big Ten. After a 1,403-yard freshman campaign, Dobbins eclipsed Maurice Clarett for the most rushing yards as a frosh. Last season saw a decline (mostly due to a healthy Mike Webber), but nonetheless, the Texas native hit the 1,000-yard mark again.

In the Rose Bowl campaign, Dobbins had especially big days against Maryland and Nebraska — huge factors in both of those perilous Ohio State wins. Both teams are back on the schedule this season, so look out for more big time performances from the junior. With enough of those outcomes, J.K. should have another 1,000-yard season. — Geoff Hammersley

E is for Expectations

New head coach, five new assistant coaches, new quarterback — let’s cut the 2019-20 Buckeyes some slack, eh?

Wrong. In Columbus, the Ohio State football team is expected to win every game of the season. If they lose one game, fine, but no more than one. Urban Meyer lived up to these expectations, bringing home a 2014 national championship title, three Big Ten Championship trophies, an 83-9 overall record, and — most importantly — a best-ever 7-0 record vs. TTUN. If you think fans won’t be expecting the same out of his new successor Ryan Day, you’re sadly mistaken.

While Day has never been a full-time head coach, he did act as interim head coach in 2018 during Meyer’s three-game suspension. Day went 3-0, which included a win against a 15th-ranked TCU. Fast forward to today, and Day has been on fire with recruiting, Fields is an extremely talented dual-threat quarterback, and a lot of Meyer-recruited talent still remains. Impressive... but expected.

The 2019 Buckeyes should meet, if not surpass, all of our expectations this year — as long as Day sticks to the no-more-than-one-loss rule, brings home a Big Ten Championship, and gets his team into the playoff conversation. Easy, right? — Tia Williams

F is for Friday Night Lights

Ohio State will play its first ever Friday night game this season when it takes on Northwestern on Oct. 18 in Evanston, Ill. The rematch of last season’s Big Ten Championship Game should be a good battle, with the two teams looking very differently than they did last December. Nonetheless, the Buckeyes should not take the road contest lightly. The Wildcats will feature new starting quarterback Hunter Johnson, a five-star recruit who transferred from Clemson. The game will take place at 8:30 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on FS1. — Gene Ross

G is for Graduate Transfers

Ohio State added two graduate transfers to this year’s roster in the offseason. The most notable is offensive lineman Jonah Jackson, who previously played at Rutgers. Jackson was one of the few bright spots last year for the Scarlet Knights, starting 11 games and earning honorable mention All-Big Ten honors.

The other graduate transfer is quarterback Gunnar Hoak. The Kentucky graduate transfer who played his high school football at Dublin Coffman will be the backup quarterback to Justin Fields. Gunnar comes from a family of former Buckeyes. Frank Hoak, Gunnar’s father, played for Ohio State. Gunnar’s uncle is Fred Pagac and his cousin is Fred Pagac Jr. Hoak saw spot duty in 2018 for Kentucky, completing 13 of 26 passes for 167 yards and two touchdowns. — Brett Ludwiczak

H is for Hill

The return of K.J. Hill is a huge boost for Ohio State’s offense this season. As the second-leading receiver for the Bucks in 2018, Hill hauled in 70 receptions for 885 yards and six touchdowns. With some of the most dependable hands on the team and that deadly big-play ability, look for Hill to make more flashy plays like this in 2019. — Gene Ross

I is for In-State

Ohio is a talent rich state when it comes to recruiting. Urban Meyer had some success recruiting within state lines, but the likes of Jackson Carman slipped through the cracks. Ryan Day, already, has made it a mission to recruit within Ohio — and is already seeing success.

In the 2019 class, Zach Harrison made his commitment to Ohio State. The top player in the Buckeye State and the No. 2 strong-side defensive end nationally didn’t slip away from the Scarlet and Gray.

The top two Ohio prospects in the 2020 class, Paris Johnson Jr. and Darrion Henry, are both verbal commitments to OSU; not to mention high school teammates.

Geographically, there’s many elite programs on the prowl to snatch away Ohio talent. Michigan, Notre Dame, Michigan State and Penn State are just some of the schools that have gone into Ohio and secured commitments. Throw in Luke Fickell’s Cincinnati program, and the onslaught comes from, literally, all directions.

However, Day has held his own on the recruiting trail. Look for that trend (and the Buckeyes’ ability to secure top talent from within the state) to continue — especially if the team contends for a spot in the Big Ten Championship and College Football Playoff. — Geoff Hammersley

J is for Justin Fields

The transfer quarterback turned out to be a boon for the Buckeyes this past offseason. And it’s already bearing fruit, as Ryan Day officially named Fields the starting quarterback (not that there seemed any other realistic alternative).

Fields saw limited action at Georgia, including 39 passes and 42 runs, which gives him something of an advantage coming into his starting role in Columbus. He’ll need that little bit of experience as he works to follow-up Dwayne Haskins’ performance from last season which led to the latter being a first-round draft pick this spring.

Fields brings a running ability that’s been familiar to the Ohio State offense (until last year at least — Haskins ran for just 108 yards and four touchdowns in 2018), which naturally calls into question his sustainability and, as a result, the backup quarterback situation, but more on that later. — Meredith Hein

K is for Kicking

Sean Nuernberger is ba--, oh wait, he’s not. Though it might have felt like the former kicker had been playing for the Buckeyes since the Jim Tressel era, he had only been kicking in Columbus since 2014. Throughout his time with the Buckeyes, Neurnberger earned 17 program kicking records, including consecutive career extra points (216).

But don’t feel too bad about losing Nuernberger. Blake Haubeil, whom you may remember has handled kickoff duties for the past two seasons, also kicked 13 field goals and 37 extra points to Nuernberger’s five field goals and 39 extra points. Haubeil connected on 10 of his 13 field goals, including two clutch scores early against Michigan last year. — Meredith Hein

L is for Linebacking

Last season, the linebacking unit struggled. Tackles were missed, assignments blown, and big plays committed by the opposing offense seemed like consistent themes throughout all 13 games.

With new guidance on defense, linebackers coach Al Washington and co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison will try and steer the unit into a more productive season in 2019.

While many anticipated a position battle in camp, it looks like Tuf Borland and Pete Werner will again start alongside Malik Harrison, with Baron Browning and Teradja Mitchell fighting for paying time.

Harrison is the definite stat leader amongst the quartet; in 2018, he compiled 81 tackles, 8.5 for loss, and 2.5 sacks.

While no official depth chart has yet been released, Mattison said some good things about Borland during camp:

“I like everything about Tuf Borland’s game. Tuf Borland is another one that comes out to practice every day, extremely intelligent.”

If there’s one part of OSU’s game that is looking for a clean slate, it’s the LBs. We’ll see what they do with this clean slate against Florida Atlantic on Aug. 31. — Geoff Hammersley

M is for Munford

Thayer Munford started 13 games last year before an injury ended his season prior to the Rose Bowl. Even though Munford missed all of spring practice after January back surgery, the junior offensive tackle will be the leader of an Ohio State offensive line that must replace four starters. Head coach Ryan Day has been working Munford slowly back into action during training camp to make sure that the Cincinnati native is ready go when the season kicks off against Florida Atlantic. With Munford leading a bunch of new starters, this year’s edition of the Ohio State offensive line should be called “Munford & Sons.” — Brett Ludwiczak

N is for Noon kickoffs

Primetime football has been a big staple in the cable television era. And with Ohio State laying waste to the Big Ten during the Urban years, a handful of games each season kicked off under the lights. Last season, three regular season games took place at night; in 2017, four featured the Bucks in primetime action.

However, with Fox announcing that they would be putting their top game of the week at noon, and with a bevy of Big Ten games on the docket, expect more OSU contests to be taking place in the first window of Saturday games.

Already, the first three games for 2019 (Florida Atlantic, Cincinnati and Indiana) will be noon kicks, with FAU and IU being broadcast on Fox. Michigan, as tradition, is scheduled for noon— and will be back on Fox. Six games still need start times set, but it’s a good bet that many of those games will either be noon or 3:30 p.m. ET. — Geoff Hammersley

O is for Olave

Freshman wideout Chris Olave had his coming out party in the Michigan game when he found the endzone twice and also blocked a punt that Ohio State would return for a touchdown. Olave had another big game in his next outing, catching five passes for 79 yards and a TD in the B1G Championship. Now a sophomore, Olave is a guy with great hands to go along with impressive body control and route running. Look for him to be a star in a crowded receiver room this season. — Gene Ross

P is for Picks

There’s a reason that Ohio State has earned the reputation of “Defensive Back U” in recent years. In the past two decades, the Buckeyes have had a dozen first-round picks at DB, including a slew recently featuring Malik Hooker, Marshon Lattimore, Gareon Conley, Denzel Ward and Eli Apple. Even this past season, Kendall Sheffield was selected in the fourth round by the Atlanta Falcons.

That being said, the Buckeyes picked off just 11 passes in 2018 and 13 in 2017 compared to 21 in 2016. In 2016, seven of those picks were returned for touchdowns. This year, however, Ohio State is onboarding new co-defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley, who is coaching a unit which, with the exception of Sheffield, returns intact from last season. A new coaching staff, combined with a group of veteran corners and safeties, means the Buckeyes have a chance to regain their reputation as the destination for top players at defensive back. — Meredith Hein

Q is for Quarterback Depth

Quarterback depth. What can I say about quarterback depth except for the fact that there is none. With Justin Fields finally getting the nod as the starter a week ago, that leaves two graduate transfers as his back ups, Gunnar Hoak and Chris Chugunov.

As referenced above, Hoak is a native of Dublin, and is part of the Pagac Ohio State legacy family, so he at least understands the pressures of playing for OSU. During his two seasons on the Kentucky Wildcats, Hoak was 13-for-26 for 167 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. Not a ton of tape to go on there.

With West Virginia, Chugunov was 45-of-95 for 551 yards, three TDs, and three INTs. Now, this is Chugs’ second season in the program, so presumably has a decent grip on the offense. Hoak on the other hand, just joined the team over the summer, and Ryan Day said during fall camp that Hoak was still playing catch up in terms of the playbook.

While Fields’ experience is practically just as limited as his grad-transfer backups, he comes to Columbus with five-stars next to his name, and a world of talent. However, if he has to miss any extended amount of time, for whatever reason, it will take all of Day’s QB-whisperer skills to keep the OSU offense moving. — Matt Tamanini

R is for Redemption

Ohio State was 13-1 last year. If the College Football Playoff Committee had gone by their stated guiding principles, chances are that the Buckeyes would have been back in the playoff in 2018. But instead, they hung on to beat the Washington Huskies 28-23 in the Granddaddy of them All.

However, despite all of their 2018 accomplishments, there are a number of people wearing scarlet and gray who will be looking for more than a bit of redemption as the season kicks off. First and foremost is the linebacking corps. Our Geoff Hammersley talked about that in depth above, and Gene Ross will talk about their new coach below, but the unit under Billy Davis in 2018 were often slow, out of position, and terrible at tackling.

Despite the change in coaches, it appears that not much is going to change in terms of the starting LBs, so Tuf Borland and Pete Werner will especially need to prove that they’re worth the confidence and praise that their coaches have heaped on them.

Other units that will be looking for redemption this year are the offensive line, primarily in run blocking, and the surprisingly sloppy secondary. Junior running back J.K. Dobbins also has called his sophomore campaign a disappointment, so while he ran for over 1,000 yards in 2018, he is on a redemption tour of his own this season. — Matt Tamanini

S is for Starting Strong

Unlike in recent years, the Buckeyes don’t have a notable out-of-conference matchup early on this season (unless you count Lane Kiffin’s Florida Atlantic). The non-conference slate includes the aforementioned Owls, Cincinnati, and Miami (OH), allowing for a nine-game conference lineup for Ohio State.

While wins over these teams certainly wouldn’t give the Buckeyes a signature W early on in 2019, it does give Ryan Day, Justin Fields, a new offensive line and others the chance to gel before conference play begins in earnest in Week 5. — Meredith Hein

T is for Touchdowns in the Red Zone

One of Ohio State’s biggest shortcomings in 2018 was their inability to score in the red zone, stemming from an inadequate run game. This flaw was fully exposed in the team’s blowout loss in West Lafayette, wherein the Buckeyes managed just two field goals in five red zone trips against Purdue. Now, with Justin Fields’ ability to run the football and a hungry J.K. Dobbins, offense should be much easier to come by in those short yardage situations. A mobile quarterback should really open up the playbook, and lead to increased efficiency in the red zone. — Gene Ross

U is for Uniforms

Land-Grant Holy Land

Now deep into the era of alternate uniforms, the Buckeyes are breaking out special attire for the Michigan State game. The all black unis are coming back, and they actually look really nice. — Geoff Hammersley

V is for Victory Bell

After every OSU home victory, the victory bell at Ohio Stadium chimes. There are seven home games this season, and there’s a good chance that you’ll be able to hear the bells ring on campus after each. Florida Atlantic, Cincinnati, Miami (OH), Michigan State, Penn State, Wisconsin and Maryland are the opponents on tap inside the famed Horseshoe. — Geoff Hammersley

W is for Washington

As previously discussed, Ohio State’s linebackers were less than stellar in 2018, and the man tasked with correcting those issues will be the newly appointed position coach Al Washington Jr. Spending last season with Michigan, Washington helped produce the Wolverines’ No. 3 ranked defense in the nation. Washington, who has previously spent time on staff with Ryan Day at Boston College, grew up in Columbus. His father, Al Washington Sr., played linebacker at Ohio State from 1977 through 1980. — Gene Ross

X is for X-rays

Every football season has its fair share of injuries, but coming into game week, the only Buckeye that we know that has been substantively sidelined is senior defensive end Jonathon Cooper. As the program’s new head coach, Ryan Day has decided that he would no longer be as transparent with injury information as Urban Meyer had been during his tenure.

While obviously that has a strategic purpose when it comes to confounding opponents’ gameplanning efforts, it also makes it difficult for fans and media to fully know what’s going on with the team.

However, if this year’s Buckeyes want to make it back to the College Football Playoff, it would certainly help for as many key players to avoid the need for X-rays... or MRIs, or concussion protocols, or second opinions, or any additional medical attention in general, whether Day tells us about it or not. — Matt Tamanini

Y is for Young

Chase Young: preseason All-American. Projected top NFL draft pick. Destroyer of worlds.

Need we say more? — Gene Ross

Z is for Zero

Since 2012, Michigan has defeated Ohio State a whopping zero times. Almost out of a Dr. Seuss book, the Wolverines have had big losses and small losses, heartbreaking losses and demoralizing losses. This year, Ryan Day ushers in a new era — but the end goal is still the same. He’s got big shoes to fill, but making Michigan go 0-8 in the last eight meetings may be his biggest goal on the whiteboard. — Geoff Hammersley